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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. shark & unicorn: spooky

Here's my Shark & Unicorn comic strip that ran last weekend in The Funday Times section of The Sunday Times. The film theme for the issue was The Book of Life, but I was asked not to use the word 'ghost' or 'haunted'. (Thus the 'spookies'; I had to be a bit creative.)

Actually, The Book of Life looks interesting, I'll include the trailer:

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2. the carnegie co-author conundrum

I was glad to spot Oliver and the Seawigs on this year's Carnegie Medal nomination list, but something made me do a double-take on the way it was written:

Now, I feel uncomfortable writing about awards. Partly because they're someone else's business; other people can give awards to anyone they like. Partly because I don't spend a lot of time researching the exact particulars of each award because I'm too busy trying to make good books, and good books that earn enough money to let me keep doing this job. So I'm no expert on the Carnegie and Greenaway medals. But these awards are set forward as the most important of the book prizes and picked up the most by the media, so when I spot something that seems amiss, I feel I need to ask questions, even if they don't directly benefit my own prospects.

Question: Why would the Carnegie list a highly illustrated book with just the writer's name and not the illustrator's name?

Answer (Answered by awards judge @mattlibrarian): Because of the eligibility criteria, the book must be written by a single author:

So books with two writers are out. And books with a writer and an illustrator are eligible, but only if the illustrator remains uncredited.

My publisher and agent didn't know about this nomination listing in advance, and it's causing all sorts of stir. They're asking, should we insist that I'm a a co-author and pull our book out of the running? (I blogged about this co-author business very recently!) Or should we leave it there on the list and pretend I'm not a co-author, like many other illustrators have had to pretend in the past? The book isn't a whole book without the pictures; they're integral to the story.

I'm fine with Oliver and the Seawigs not being nominated for the Greenaway Award, that's the personal taste of the judges, and whether they thought it met the criteria. I wouldn't expect Seawigs to win against full-illustrated picture books; there are too many words in the book to give space for lavish pictures. Compare this page of Oliver and the Seawigs...

... to a wordless page in There's a Shark in the Bath:

Or a page in Jim Field's There's a Lion in my Cornflakes:

Both of the picture books have SO much more room to show off blazing technical skill and overwhelm the reader with pure imagery that makes more visceral impact than the text. (And the Greenaway medal is supposed to be a pure illustration award.) Oliver and the Seawigs doesn't work exactly like that; it's more of an equal partner to a longer text. Occasionally it has moments when the imagery speaks more loudly than the text:

But we also have page with no pictures at all. Compare this to Philip's Carnegie-winning novel, Here Lies Arthur, which is pure text. Philip's a wizard at creating mental word pictures, and he has plenty of room for long descriptive passages:

Or his famous opening lines to Mortal Engines:

Philip CAN write in a way that needs no pictures. But he chose not to write that way for Oliver and the Seawigs because we were trying to do something very different. 'They had met on the top of Mount Everest' is short and says very little; that's a job for the picture to do.

So the Carnegie judging process could go two ways:

1. Oliver and the Seawigs and other highly illustrated chapter books could be read for words alone.
'They met on the top of Mount Everest' with no picture is not going to knock off anyone's socks or be humourous in any way. The 'meh' of the mountain goat doesn't even make sense by itself.

2. The judges take the illustrations into account when they judge the quality of the story, but any award given would be to Philip alone, listed that way in the press release. It would be up to Philip to give me credit, and the prize money situation would be awkward.

Do you think either of these options seem ideal? I'm not just asking for our books, but for other writers and illustrators, too.

Why does it even matter?

We don't really have a word for these kinds of books, but in the USA, they call them 'Middle Grade' books, to distinguish from 'Young Adult'. Philip and I think these books are absolutely vital to keeping kids reading; we're losing a lot of readers between picture books and books with no pictures at all. We watched Philip's son start reading Oliver and the Seawigs and he kept going until he got to the first page without a picture, and that's when he put it down. A page with no pictures at all can be completely daunting to a non-bookworm. This is a feeling a lot of book lovers can't even imagine, and it's book lovers who judge these sorts of prizes.

Two things I wish would happen:

1. The Carnegie would be opened to more than one author, to co-authors.
That would allow proper recognition for illustrators as co-authors, as well as close writing partnerships. (Why should authors have to be solitary for a book to be good?)

2. There would be a third prize created for these 'Middle Grade' books. There would be allowances made for stories that might appeal to younger readers, and for illustrations to play a major part in the storytelling process. A lot of kids who can read a bit more text than they find in picture books aren't quite ready for the very grown-up themes of recent Carnegie winners. You don't go straight from reading This is Not My Hat to The Bunker Diaries. Prize money would be spread equally between the awards, to show these books are all important.

Why would people nominate a book they didn't think stood a chance of winning? If Seawigs is judged by words alone, it won't win. If it's judged as a whole, it will be a blow to the whole illustrator-as-co-author argument.

I did get a tweet from the organisers, CILIP, on the subject:

And Philip's made his stance clear enough. (Can I say how much I love working with my co-author?)

So what should we DO? Pull out of the award? Stay in? I know it's only the long list, not the short list, and I'm tempted to stay in, for Philip's sake, and because I want to give the awards process a chance. I think the inclusion of the book allows us to talk more about these issues. But what do you think? Do you think this issue needs addressing? You can tweet to CILIP at @CILIPCKG and/or use the hash tag #CKG15 and I know they'll welcome the discussion.


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3. scribble: my 24-hour comic

Hello! Here's the comic I made for the 24-Hour Comic Marathon at this weekend's Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.

The challenge I set myself (besides making a whole book in 24 hours!) was to make a comic book that an adult could read aloud to a child. (Usually comics are rather difficult to read aloud.) So there are bits that might be slightly wordy, but I was doing that to try to make it read better. It was an experiment, so see if you think it works!

Ta-DAH! Thank you for reading! I'll blog more about the event and creating process soon, but big thanks to Scott McCloud, who set the original 24-Hour Comic challenge, and came all the way from the USA to give the festival a boost and pop his head into the room a couple times with his wife, Ivy, to cheer us on. Here we are in the Page 45 room with the six other creators who were working on their own books along with me through the night (from left): Jack Teagle (@jackteagle), Kristyna Baczynski (@kbaczynski), Warwick Johnson Cadwell (@WarwickJC), Scott ((@scottmccloud), awesome coordinator Dan Berry (@thingsbydan), Fumio Obata (@FumioObata), Joe Decie (@joedecie) and me. Dan was amazing and worked with a local Kendal printer, Absolute Digital Print, to roll out 50 copies of each book by that evening. (Wow!) I've sold out of my copies, but perhaps sometime I'll print some more.

Oh, and did you notice that big crowd scene, when Jamie the scribble is on display at the art museum? I got some help with drawing the crowd from the amazing team of Kendal College assistants who stuck with us through the night, in two shifts. A lot of the people were drawn by Janet (here with her sketchbook), who's ace.

And here are Phil Welch and Katie White, who stayed with us through the WHOLE 24 HOURS and created an AMAZING BLOG, tweeting as @24hcm and using the #24hcm hash tag. Also, a little look at my work desk, and a pose on the following Sunday with festival-mascot-creator Felt Mistress and the two top festival coordinators, Julie Tait and Sandra Wood. Thanks so much, everyone!

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4. wonky beastiary

Yesterday I was having problems drawing, which usually means I'm trying too hard. So I did a couple of pictures where I wasn't trying so hard, and they came out better than the work stuff. OH WELL. This one was in response to Jim Field's illustrations in There's a Lion in my Cornflakes (see my earlier post on that).

And this one's from asking everyone on Twitter what to draw, and I drew ALL the suggestions and gave them the names of the people who suggested them. There's not a lick of research in any of that, and I forgot what an axolotl was, so I made it up!

From tomorrow until Sunday, I'm going to be at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, which I hear is one of the best comics festivals in the country, along with Thought Bubble in Leeds, which I'll be attending with David O'Connell in November. Page 45 (a Nottingham-based mostly-comics shop) will be selling my Scholastic picture books this weekend and I think Forbidden Planet will also be selling some of my books. I'll be doing two signings, 10-2 on Sat and 10:30-2 on Sun, so do stop by and say hello! At the end of the week, I'll also be selling a limited number of copies of my 24-Hour Comic book (that I'll be making all at once, from Wed afternoon until Thurs afternoon) and during the time I'm there, you can pick up a copy directly from me of the Jampires comic book that the Jampires picture book was originally based on. I think I have about 25 copies of that one and it's £3. I might also do some on-the-spot sketches for people, we'll see how it goes. I'll definitely draw in any of my books!

Eek! I've never done a 24-Hour Comics Marathon before, I'm curious how it will work. I hope I can stay awake that long. Scott McCloud's going to be at the festival, too, and he's the one who came up with the original 24-Hour-Comic dare.

You can follow updates as the festival progresses on the #LICAF hash tag. Hope to see you there! If you're someone I know from the Internets, let me know, because I'm a bit slow with that sort of thing! It's so gutting to find out later that I've been talking with someone but never put two and two together to realise exactly who that person really was. Say hello and tell me who you are! :)

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5. ada lovelace day

Today's Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the life of the first computer programmer! Also, she is fun to draw.


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6. sainsbury's children's book award

Today The Bookseller announced the winners of the new Sainsbury's Children's Book Award! Congratulations to all of them, Fiona Watt & Rachel Wells, Michelle Robinson & Jim Field, and Sarah Courtauld! The team at Sainsbury's, writer Phil Earle and I worked together to come up with an award logo:

Picture books are my real passion, so I had a wonderful time reading my way through the stack. (I'll focus on the Best Picture Book category here because I had the most active part in that judging process.) I've been a long-time fan of Alex T. Smith's beautiful illustration, and I was thrilled his Hector and the Big Bad Knight was shortlisted. I love his compositions, the ways he turns people and objects into such interesting shapes and fills these shapes with beautiful patterns and amusing details. I loved reading aloud Judi Abbot's TRAIN!; she gives so much scope for funny voices and acting out different emotions using very simple words.

I'd only recently become aware of Jim Field's work and he totally blew my socks off with the winning book with writer Michelle Robinson, There's a Lion in My Cornflakes.

Jim and Michelle have ingeniously turned a simple 'What If?' story into a hilarious, beautifully designed flight of fancy. Jim's drawings are at once sophisticated and accessible, his slightly retro colour palette is bold and striking, and he uses intriguing devices to push forward the story, including pages of 'Free Lion' cereal tokens, tasty packaging and a letter from the cereal manufacturer. I absolutely adore the joyful complexity of the central pages, where all the kids in the neighbourhood are playing with the gorgeous lions they've been sent after collecting their tokens; I immediately wanted to count all the lions, then giggle at all their various antics.

When I first read the book title, There's a Lion in my Cornflakes, it made me laugh, because my recent picture book, There's a Shark in the Bath, ends with an elephant in my Cheerios.

People keep asking me if I'll make that into a sequel, but Jim's done something similar so well that I think I'll leave this to him!

There's a Lion In My Cornflakes - Book Trailer from Jim Field on Vimeo.

Go find out more about how Jim made the artwork over on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter as @_JimField and Michelle at @MicheRobinson.

I was hugely pleased to be part of the judging process. Picture books are some of our greatest national treasures, and there's nothing that gives greater hope, comfort and excitement to a child than to be nestled in the lap of an adult, wrapped in the pages of a book, gazing into a whole other world. And picture books aren't just valuable for children; I hope that adults will appreciate how each book's a whole exhibition of art and design, contained within the portable walls of its two covers. Awards such as this one highlight the fact that children's books aren't just about nostalgia, but that Britain is producing exciting new stories all the time. I'm very proud to be part of this!

Big thanks to Phil Earle and the Sainbury's Children's Book Award team. It was great fun chatting about and debating books with you!

Apparently the girl in the logo looks just like Children's Book Buyer Mavis Sarfo when she was little! :D

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7. oxford story museum jampires!

Jampires are coming to Oxford! Booking details here! Lovely poster by my co-author David O'Connell:

In the meantime, I'll be up in Kendal in the Lakes District, at the Lakes International Comics Festival. Come say hello to me during my signing sessions and get your book doodled!

Oo, and the British Comic Award have announced their longlist! Have a special look at the Young People's Comic Award category, some great books in there.

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8. monster in a bubble car

Latest drawing:

Our monster's driving a Brütsch Mopetta, which I first saw in this picture in Object's Top 20 Bubble Car list. What a lovely little car, what a fine little pipe chappie.

Gosh, it makes a good wind-up toy noise, too:

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9. the giant earwigs from mars

So the results are in! The winner of this year's Medusa Malarky Story Starter competition is... Madam Kangaroo Nuggets! For the Summer Reading Challenge, I was asked to begin a story in comics format, and people could continue the story either in comics form or with words only.

Here's how the story started:

And you can read her version of the rest of of the story here!
. . .
“The giant earwigs from mars to invade planet earth, of course!” replied Saul. “We certainly don’t want that to happen, do we Medusa?” Medusa looked shocked, this was the second time giant earwigs had invaded planet earth in her entire life. And it certainly was not a nice experience. Her father had saved earth last time, now it was her turn. “Well get on with it” hissed Sue, and Medusa ran to her space rocket (every normal person has a space rocket in their back garden, don’t they?). She slipped on her space suit and held her breath “3, 2, 1, BLAST OFF!!!” And they shot up into the air, whooshing past the clouds, speeding past the moon and heading for mars. “Wow! This is amazing!” shouted Sarah, who had never been inside the rocket before, “I agree!” replied Stephan. “We are going to land soon” said Medusa joyfully. And after a short wait that is exactly what they did, land on mars. “I feel sick” complained Simon. “Look out below!” And Simon vomited over all the other snakes. “Come on! We have got no time to lose!” exclaimed Medusa. So they jumped off the rocket and started looking for the giant earwigs. They searched and they searched until eventually, Sarah whispered: “They are over there”. Medusa crept up to them and shouted: “You will never get the chance to invade earth!”
“Oh yes we will” Ethan boomed back.
“You will not” replied Medusa, and immediately ran up to Ethan “Bite snakes, bite!” ordered Medusa “And do the same to the rest of them”.

10 minutes later Ethan, Edith, Emil, Elliott and Edna were all rolling round on the floor, howling with pain. “Now I must wave you all goodbye” announced Medusa. And with that, she jumped off mars, pushed the planet and it rolled off into the galaxy. “Goodbye!” Medusa and her snakes shouted “Goodbye”.

. . .

I thought this story had the most energy, and conjured up the most interesting pictures in my own head. The vomiting snake made me laugh! And the thought of Medusa running up to the giant earwigs, commanding her hair to 'Bite snakes, bite!' was a good image. My only criticism was that it would have been good to explain a bit more clearly which character was attached to which name; I understood that they were snakes and earwigs from the context, but that could have been tightened up a bit. I would love to find out what the giant earwigs from Mars look like; this could be adapted into a great comic strip. Congrats, Madame Kangaroo Nuggets!

Now, I was actually really hoping a comic would win, because I love comics and I know it's more challenging to make a really convincing comic. There were several comics that had good elements in the shortlist I was given, but none of them really supplied a middle and an ending to the story in a way that was clear and understandable without someone standing there explaining it.

I was so, so, SO tempted to award the prize to this comic by Countess Lacey Quagmire , because the images and some of the details had me in hysterics:

Ha ha! You could make fabulous t-shirts out of some of these panels. The floating Farting Unicorn! The Friendship Snake! The drawing and the colouring is pretty awesome. ...But! After consultation with the team and some agonising, we decided that no matter how mad a comic is, and how beautiful the artwork, the story still needs to make some sort of sense. How do we move from Medusa declaring herself to be a talent scout to them suddenly being in front of a building with MARS written on it? And what is the building in the second-to-last panel? These are all things I very much want to know!

I want to keep my eye on this comics creator and say to her, you show a LOT of potential! Keep studying comics and storytelling, and work on making them as clear and understandable as possible, without losing any of your zany details and wonderful sense of fun!

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10. brompton bike

I didn't mean for today's Morning Sketch to turn into an urban seaside postcard, but there you go.

Don't forget, James Turner's launch for STAR CAT is tonight at Gosh London, 7-9pm. (You can also buy a copy direct from the Phoenix Comic from their online shop.)

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11. morning monster cuddle

I think I'm getting back into the swing of things with drawing. A morning monster cuddle is almost as good as staying under the duvet.

They're having a privet moment. This comes with a big nod to Jontofski's monster drawings; if you haven't seen his work, check out what he and Felt Mistress get up to.

And check out Jamie Smart, he's been making lots of Whubble comics. You can read more at whubble.net. (And you can follow him on Twitter as @jamiesmart.)

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12. tinpot caffeinator

Today I took part in today's Daily Doodle challenge to draw the Tin Man. (They've decided this week is Wizard of Oz Week.) I wasn't very literal about it; this is me dressed up as a tin person. You can see other people's drawings under the #Tinman hashtag.

And random Interesting Thing on the Internet: this throat singing video, a woman named Anna-Maria Hefele who can sing two lines of music at once. (I've only ever seen Mongolian men and Bobby McFerrin do it.) Also check out the guy on the other video on the iO9 webpage, he does seven different kinds of throat singing. (Link via writer Malorie Blackman.)

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13. still fighting back

Thanks so much to everyone who responded to my previous post, Fighting Back, about drawing and depression. I'm not very articulate with myself about my own state of mind, but I'm finding that I can sort of gauge how well I'm doing by my attitude to drawing. I've been doing some drawings this weekend that are a bit more realistic than my normal way of illustrating. Here's a pencil portrait of my neighbour, Susi:

This particular bout of being depressed and struggling to draw fluently has shown me a few things about myself that I want to hash through so I don't forget them next time. (Which means this might sound very self-indulgent, but I'll write it anyway, because I need to. Perhaps some people will be able to relate.)

* I get jealous when I'm depressed.

When I can draw playfully and I'm in the swing of things, I love seeing amazing work by other artists, and I find it inspiring and encouraging. Seeing exploratory drawings by the likes of Jontofski, Ian McQue and Alex T. Smith makes me happy. But while I've been down, I haven't been exactly angry at other artists, but I could feel the first twinges of not being exactly thrilled at seeing other good drawings. And I knew that was wrong, and pulled myself back from believing my own feelings, but I could understand better where people were coming from when they said that good artists annoyed them. I had one friend actually tell me that when he sees a good piece of illustration, his first feeling is murderous rage, which only then subsides into appreciation. I tend to hear this more from guys than other women, but I got a little glimpse into that world. And I know that if I start feeling it again, I need to stop and take stock of my mental state before it get totally debilitating.

* I'm not really angry at other artists, I'm lonely.

I realised what it was that was making me angry; these people were throwing themselves into new techniques and developing new skills, and seeing their work made me felt left out. Instead of feeling boosted up by them, like marching with fellow soldiers, they were leaving me behind. It wasn't anger I was feeling at all, it was loneliness. I'd been reading J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun, and Patrick Ness's More Than This, both stories which begin with solitary kids foraging in abandoned neighbourhoods, and I could totally relate to them.

Solitary hamster foraging through 'More than This'

* Realistic drawing helps simplify things and can be therapeutic.

Whenever I do realistic drawing, I get more compliments on my artistry than when I do more simplified, stylised illustration work, particularly from non-illustrators. But drawing simplified pictures, in many ways, is more difficult and requires more skill and constant decision making. I'm having to pare things down to their essences and add my own playful interpretation. And when I'm tired and feeling low, this is much harder to do. Sketching realistically still requires some amount of interpretation, but I don't have to make major changes to what's in front of me, I can use it completely as a guide, and get lost in the object I'm looking at, instead of in my drawing. It's more a study in looking than drawing, letting my eyes follow each bulge and bump.

Here's a drawing I made in Greenwich Park this morning, of one of the old chestnut trees. I notice so many things about the tree that I could never take in at a brief glance, and it feels good to appreciate the details of the tree; I can lose myself in that. I guess that's why it's therapeutic; stylised illustrations feel more about me, whereas these sorts of sketches feel more about what I'm looking at. And I want to get out of 'me' for awhile.

I wouldn't want to do this sort of drawing in a picture book, and I don't particularly like most picture books that have a sort of photo-realistic quality to them; I'd rather they be actual photos than tight, slavish copies of photos. I want to see people take things for a spin, not just show me their technical skill in copying. (Photo-realistic drawings of children laughing, in particular, make me cringe; they never look entirely natural.) Photo-realism does occasionally work for me, but it's when the characters are hugely simplified and only the backgrounds are realistic or semi-realistic.

Speaking of which, I read a fascinating interview by Simon Hattenstone of Grayson Perry in yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine.

I could probably go off on at least ten essays responding to things he said - I can really relate to a lot of that stuff, and Perry says it very articulately - but one thing was relevant to this blog post, his attitude toward 'likenesses'.

I don't think Perry's being a snob, he just knows his art is more than making drawings that look like photos, or resemble a real-life subject. Anyone can do that, it's not that different from learning maths or geography, and you can achieve it with study and practice. But it takes a lot of playfulness, research and deliberate exploration to look at something and use it as a jumping-off point for something truly interesting, perhaps something that says something larger about our culture, or even something that just really grabs your eye. That's MUCH harder.

Not to say that learning how to draw realistically isn't a valuable tool! Drawing trees and portraits helps me develop skills that I can put into my more simplified work; it all filters down. But don't underestimate what goes into simplier drawings. To make zinging book illustrations, I need to be fighting fit. And I'm working on it. Taking time to draw this weekend - and write these blog posts - has helped a lot. ...Still fighting back.

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14. portrait drawing

Here's another portrait drawing, this time of photographer Sarah Reeve. (Sarah took some ace photo portraits of Philip and me a couple weekends ago in our space suits and I thought I'd do one of her in return.)

I didn't used to work much in pencil, I always thought my work looked better in ink. But David O'Connell and I drew all of our Jampires picture book in pencil, so I thought I'd try it again.

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15. fighting back

Last night I felt so scatter-brained and weepy and depressed, that I knew I had to take stock of things and try to figure out what to do.

I've just finished one picture book, which I should have kept simple, but I ended up making it incredibly detailed, and took the full amount of time I'd been allotted, and then some. My lovely designer, Rebecca Essilifie, is racing around now getting it ready to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair, in the absolute minimum time I possibly could have given her. (Sorry, Rebecca! You are wonderful!) Actually, take a moment to stop and think of all the book designers absolutely FREAKING OUT right now, in the run up to Frankfurt. My designer at Oxford University Press, Jo Cameron, was doing a very late working night and ordering in pizza supplies. (I know this from Facebook.)

But ANYWAY... When I posted updates that I'd finished my picture book, people said 'Hooray! Now I hope you can take a break!' and I knew I couldn't. Pushing to the final extended-extended deadline on the Scholastic picture book meant I was late in starting up my chapter book with OUP. So I didn't have any time to get my head in gear, it was straight to character design and thumbnails. ...Oh, except there were two weekends of festivals, and lots of dressing up in silly wigs and performing and coaching kids in their own creativity. And I was exhausted.

I got home and the house was a mess with all my paper, letters I don't know where to file, stacks of books, craft stuff, those little canvas bags one gets at conferences, and random computer cables making the floor look like spaghetti. I knew that this mess was all my fault, too. Fifteen years ago, I moved in with a very tidy minimalist, and he puts up with so much, but there's always pressure for me to keep my stuff under control. Or not even pressure, he just gets glummer and glummer and then I feel terrible and try to make giant tidying sweeps. These cleaning rampages usually end very quickly, when I find some form I needed to fill out, or something that needs an e-mail answer, and Stuart comes into the room to find me in front of the computer, not tidying. He looks at me working on the computer, and the untidy room, and doesn't see how the two tasks go together. And you know what... they really don't.

Doing things on the Internet does not mean stuff is happening in real life. But it's so easy to forget that.

I feel like I'm living inside a computer right now. All the e-mails I need to answer, all my connections with work people and friends, my digital artwork, news updates, all of it comes through the screen of my laptop and my phone. I keep in touch with my American family through Skype, but even then, I don't Skype often enough and they rely on my blog to know what's happening with me. I find myself getting twitchy if I'm away from the Internet for very long. When I used to go to cafes, I would sit and draw; now I go online and see what everyone else is doing. Or I post an only-vaguely-interesting photo and wait for people to validate my existence. I get overwhelmed with things people are asking me to do and sort of shut down, and then feel horrible because I feel like I'm letting everyone down, all of the time, including myself. This is the feeling that gets me most depressed.

I feel like I've fallen out of love with drawing.

I can't believe I'm saying this.

I used to draw in any spare moment I got, play drawing games, make comics. And now I'm supposed to be drawing so much for work (and doing a zillion other non-drawing admin tasks) that I've neglected the fun stuff. I'm finding it takes me three times as long to draw things for work; everything looks tight and tense and crabbed, and I find myself scrubbing it out and starting over again, and over, and over, and procrastinating with cups of tea and snacks (and getting chubby) because I'm hating every minute of it. I get a sore neck from craning around at my desk to look over at my computer to see what's going on everywhere else.

This is ALL WRONG. But I'm going to fight back.

Here's a silly drawing I did last night, to try to cheer myself up, based on a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (from 1532-ish). I didn't let myself do any pre-sketching or erase, just went straight into the drawing and allowed the mistakes to make it more interesting. (It's not something I ever feel I can do with my 'professional' work.)

I know that haven't lost my love of drawing forever, it's in there somewhere, but I need to weed some space around it, to let it grow. I need to stop feeling guilty for drawing things that aren't work-based. I need, somehow, to stop letting the Internet give me self-worth. I used to write this blog completely for myself, as a diary, and I need to get back to doing that, and stop seeing it as some sort of marketing tool. I need to stop worrying it if gets any 'likes', or whatever. I need to get back into playing. And I need to come back to the physical world.

What does this mean? Well, exercise. Argh, I hate it so much, but when I get fat and ungainly, it makes my brain go all slow and fuzzy. It means talking with real people. I'm so glad for my studio mate, Elissa Elwick, who's been in a lot the past couple weeks and is there for real conversation, and cups of tea, and having a laugh. It means getting rid of some of the clutter in my flat. The last time Philip Reeve stayed with us (on his way back from the Manx Lit Fest), he helped me get rid of some of my book pile. Gosh, was he MERCILESS!

Him: 'NO, you do NOT need this book. It goes OUT!'
Me: 'But I haven't read that one yet! But my friend wrote it! But it's about a mermaid!'
Him: 'You're never going to read it, are you.'
Me: 'But I might! Some day!'
Him: 'If you really want to read it, you can buy it again.'
Him: 'This is really upsetting you, isn't it.'

I plead the case for keeping too many of the books, but I had three huge bags full for the charity shop when we'd finished. (Thanks, Philip.)

It means I need to set Internet limits for myself. Not answering e-mails between certain hours, setting exact times when I'm allowed to look at Twitter. (I've been doing that a bit already, telling people not to let me back on until 5pm or so. It really helps.) I somehow need to stop making the Internet and ever-present part of my life. It's hard, though; the lines are so blurred; I use the Internet for image research, I sometimes need to contact colleagues during the day, I have tea breaks where I think, I could surf Twitter while I drink this cup of tea. Maybe I need to set myself a challenge on certain days, that every single time I get the urge to go online, I have to make a doodle instead. That could be interesting. Here's today's Morning Sketch. (I love the way dry shampoo gives me awesome Gibson Girl hair.)

Anyway, I'm fighting back. (I'm going to keep saying this phrase, in my head, over and over.) I used to make Morning Sketches, and that helped get my head in gear for the day. I hate, hate, HATE routine, I'm not a routine kind of person at all. But I think I need to force myself to do a daily Morning Sketch and go for a run. Otherwise I think I might fall apart. Here's today's Morning Sketch. And blogging about it is making me run late again, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse to avoid exercise, like I have done for the last two months or so. Argh.


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16. all things space-themed

When Stuart and I were visiting the Reeve house on Dartmoor, we spotted two Poglite visitors perched on top of the piano, gently waving about their tentacles:

And then the Reeves notices that all their spoons had disappeared, and I know for certain that these two occurences were linked. Poglites have never managed to develop their own spoon technology, and they are always on the prowl for these treasures.

And just today, Zoe Toft pointed out this article that would have interested the Poglites very much:

Philip and I particularly admired the spoon for disposing of horrific soups:

If you've been following Zoe's Playing by the Book blog, you will have seen that she and her family have already made forays into the world of spoon valuation:

Perhaps some day Reeve & McIntyre will write a Poglite song - and play the spoons! - but in the meantime, you can hear our first Cakes in Space song, as performed at Budleigh Salterton:

But Cakes in Space is not the only new space book, there's an amazing one coming out next week! Kids, adults, librarians, everyone, go get a copy of James Turner's STAR CAT.

James is possibly the funniest writer of comics on the planet, and you can't go wrong with this book. His humour works on many levels; from slapstick to breath-takingly absurd metaphysics. ...Oh, and the London launch party at Gosh is NEXT THURSDAY! Do go along if you can, and get James to sign and doodle in your book:

Besides Gosh comics, another great place to buy STAR CAT online is from The Phoenix Comic's own shop (where you can get lots of other great comics, too. Hmm. I notice it's not there yet, but it should be there next week, after the launch). Check out James's website and you can follow him on Twitter as @eruditebaboon. If you love STAR CAT, be sure to check out his earlier amazing book, Super Animal Adventure Squad... and subscribe to get a weekly dose of comics from The Phoenix Comic!

Speaking of comics, be sure to check out Neill Cameron's blog: he's been writing up a storm about how to get kids reading using comics. I back him 100%, this is something I really believe in.

Comics And Literacy, Part 1: Why Reading Comics Matters

Part 2: The (New) Golden Age of Children's Comics

Part 3: Things You Can Do

Follow him on Twitter as @neillcameron and keep an eye on the #ComicsAndLiteracy hash tag.

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17. manx lit fest 2014

So Philip Reeve hijacked my previous blog post and turned it into a Manx Reeve & McIntyre pop quiz. But it wasn't exactly a comprehensive look at my visit to the Isle of Man for the Manx Lit Fest. The main reason I blog is so that I don't forget things, and Manx Lit Fest was so fabulous that I absolutely must go back and record it.

Writer Rakie Keig plunged me straight into a Manx cultural lesson when she drove me from the aiport to Douglas, where I would be staying for the weekend. We drove over the Fairy Bridge and she urged me to greet the fairies (as everyone does on the island, I learned from asking around). She also advised me never to say the word r-a-t, and subtitute the wod 'longtail' if I needed to say it. Her third tip was never to say I had come over from 'the mainland', but to call it 'the adjoining island'. Thanks for the tips, Rakie!

Douglas has a lovely long promenade along the beach, with a sort of faded grandeur that makes it easy to imagine the old days, when it was a prime seaside holiday destination. The Regency Hotel had lots of quirky old features, including a beautiful but tiny lift.

The lift had those sorts of grated gates you see on Russian lifts, and of course, I had to take a photo down the shaft. And then I imagined the pile of dropped camera phones at the base of it.

The lift became a major feature of my stay, and got tinier and tinier as my costumes grew larger.

My first event was a reception for the festival's sponsors, and one of the nice surprises was getting to meet a young author named Harri Sansostri. I meet a lot of kids who write, but I'd connected with Harri a year ago, when he was just beginning to try to promote his book on Twitter. He was sending the same promo tweet to everyone and I at first thought it was spam, but then realised his age, and we had a good conversation about promotion, which led to me writing this blog post for him. There was too much to say on Twitter, and I thought it might help Harri and other kids (possibly even adults!) who are trying to walk the fine line between promoting their books and being annoying. I'm sure I often go about it the wrong way, but Harri is proof that just getting out there and trying something, even if he got it wrong at first, can pay off in the end.

Harri's learned so much since then about using social media and his mother came up to me and thanked me for giving him that advice, and he tweeted me later to say how helpful it had been. (Which was good to hear; some people would just get angry if another person referred to their early tweets as spammy!)

I was so pleased to see he's ploughing forward with his books, having finished the second one and working on the third. Here's an update about it on his website, and it's great to think he's already being invited to a literary festival. He's also done quite a few school visits, which is very impressive!

Another person I met at the reception was teacher-turned-rap-battler, poet Mark Grist. The only things I knew about rap battles are from watching Eminem's film 8 Mile, but talking with Mark so intrigued me that I went to see his event later, which was undoubtedly the most entertaining poetry evening I've ever been to.

The actual rap battle videos are quite sweary (one of them has over 4 million views), but you can see a family-friendly version here, where Mark talks about taking rap battles into schools. The thing I loved most about his gig was the way he wove stories about his teaching experiences in between poetry recitations; it was great comedy.


After the reception, my Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space co-author Philip Reeve and I hosted the annual Book Fanatics' Quiz Night (see the previous post). The next day was Schools Day, and I spent the morning with the kids at Marown Primary School.

I led an Oliver and the Seawigs session with Years 2-4 and we finished by drawing Sea Monkeys and singing the Sea Monkey sea shanty.

These cheeky Sea Monkeys made me laugh:

The youngest children, Reception and Year 1, had already been reading Jampires, so I was able to build on what they already knew. We started out by drawing Jampires (who love jam), but then I had them think of their favourite food, and invent a little critter that might be obsessed with it. We even did a little bit of world building, talking about their creatures' homeland, filled entirely with their favourite food, and we drew trees with the food hanging from them (sausages, chocolate, salmon, etc).

Besides the Jampires, it was fun seeing Pizzapires, Sausagepires, Chocopires...

And then I finished with the oldest kids, Years 5 & 6. I led them in a Comics Jam, which was quite intense.

It's always fun watching them at the end of the session, when their comic is returned to them, and they can see where other kids have taken their story.

This loo door made me laugh, but no, the Marown staff do not have visible horns! Huge thanks to the school's Literacy Coordinator Megan Udy, who organised my visit, and to Nicki McMullin, from festival sponsor Isle of Man Bank, who drove me to my events.

I did solo events in the morning, but I was glad to join up with Philip in the afternoon for a shorter visit Cronk-y-Berry School. (Isn't that a great name?).

In the evening, we had a Serious Literary Event in St Bridget's Chapel on the gorgeous Nunnery Estate, just outside of Douglas. (Here's Philip being all posey in the evening sunlight.)

We were joined in our event by novelist Sara Crowe, author of Bone Jack
, and we talked on the subject of 'Creating a Lifelong Love of Words'. A lot of what I talked about was the importance of visuals in getting kids reading, their love of comics, and the importance of making books to inspire kids to love books. You can get an idea of what I talked about in an earlier blog post I wrote here, about setting up school comics festivals. Actually, we talked about A LOT, but you really had to be there. Come to one of our events sometime!

The next morning was Cakes in Space morning, and I assembled various bits of my costume on the hotel window ledge. Standard illustrator equipment, you see.

And then we went to Douglas' Family Library, where we were met by an eager crowd, and possibly our youngest ever!

We demonstrated the power of SCIENCE with the Nom-O-Tron:

Delighted everyone with the tuneful strains of our Cakes in Space song:

And presented awards for the best Cakes in Space-themed craft projects! Check out THIS HAT:

Utter genius, such a beautiful hat! It was created by the contest winner, a boy named David. Hurrah!

The hat was almost good enough to eat. (Stop that, Reeve!)

Oo, look, David also made a Cakes in Space Poglite! So fabulous!

We didn't get explanations for these drawings, but they looked pretty amazing.

And we also did a bit of drawing ourselves, on the day!

I led the group in drawing Pilbeam the robot, whose voice was so expertly reenacted by Philip.

Check out some of these great Pilbeams!

When we first started doing our Cakes in Space event, Philip and I were worried that drawing Pilbeam would be too complicated. But somehow, the step-by-step approach seems to work with even very young children. You can learn how to draw Pilbeam (as well as Astra and killer cakes) over on my website here.

One of the nice things about the book signing session after the event is getting to see people's drawings up close, and having little chats with everyone.

Big thanks, Family Library team, for a great morning! We were so pleased to see wonderful decorations everywhere, and the competition was a real bonus!

After a quick costume change, our next stop was Laxey Glen Gardens for the Roald Dahl Family Day, where we did an open air Oliver and the Seawigs event. And we got to hang out with fabulously funny writer Mark Lowery! If you haven't read his Socks are Not Enough, go read it now, it had me laughing and dying with embarrassment for its main character.

One of the cool things about the Isle of Man was just HOW many people had read Philip's books. Here's a Murderous Maths fanboy popping out from the trees, and so many people told him how his Mortal Engines books had a huge impact on them. Even Mark Grist said he walked into a lamppost reading the end of A Darkling Plain.

We were VERY lucky for sunny weather for the stage event, and we had to shout quite a lot to be heard, but we had a good audience and the dog on the stage slept peacefully throughout the show. Thanks to everyone who came along!

We were hoping to do a bit of sightseeing, and just before we left, festival Treasurer Pam Cope kindly drove us to Peel, for a look at its magnificent castle. I'd been to the Isle of Man for a wedding 13 years ago, and I'd forgotten an awful lot, but I knew Peel Castle would be worth revisiting. And gosh, it's pretty.

And so many interesting parts to explore! Hey, where has that Reeve gone off to?

Hmm, something's flitting through that bit of ruin there...

Let's zoom in. Ah, 'tis just a little Manx fairie.

Of course, in such a dramatic location, one must create dramatic album cover photos:

And I took a photo of a beautiful, rusty, old boat in Peel Harbour, for Ian McQue, who draws such things so well.

Festival photographer Steve Babb had us pose with the local Viking rope sculpture, and tweeted that we were arguing over our next book title.

Here's my photo of Steve! He was great fun and took so many terrific photos! Thanks, Steve!

Manx Lit Fest was a brilliant festival and I recommend it to any authors or visitors. So much to see and do! Huge thanks to the festival team (having a tiny breather in a Peel cafe): Festival Director John Quirke, Pam Cope, Jane Quirke and Technician Andrew Kniveton.


But that's not the whole team, there were SO many other people involved, driving, running events, baking, you name it. Here's volunteer Rakie Keig, the person who drove me from the airport:

Harri Sansostri with the excellent staff of Bridge Bookshop in Port Erin, who sold books at our events:

And one more photo of John Quirke, just because in the Mortal Engines books, 'Quirke' is a god, and that is undoubtedly why we got invited, ha ha... Thank you so much, John and team for a brilliant festival!

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18. manx lit fest quiz 2014

Last weekend Philip Reeve and I flew out to the Isle of Man for the Manx Lit Fest. We'll blog about it in more detail soon, but here's a quick taster of our adventures.

Our first assignment was to be quiz masters for the Book Fanatics’ Quiz Night.

We’d never run a quiz before, but while we wouldn’t want to blow our own trumpets, we were magnificent. So we’ll put our new-found quiz-running skills to use in the rest of this blog.

Test Your Reeve & McIntyre Knowledge

QUESTION 1: How many authors can you fit into the lift at the Regency Hotel in Douglas?

ANSWER: Just Sarah: all the other authors have to walk up the stairs.

QUESTION 2: Can you guess the purpose of these unusual objects?


QUESTION 3: What is this?
a) A hat?
b) A cake?

ANSWER: Both! It’s the winning entry of the Family Library’s ‘Cakes in Space’ competition, designed and made by David.

QUESTION 4: What happens if you press this button?

ANSWER: All of the above.

QUESTION 5: When exploring the ruins of Peel Castle, can McIntyre do a good brooding face?


QUESTION 6: Can Reeve do a good brooding face?

ANSWER: Yes, it is one of the most impressive things we have ever seen.

QUESTION 7: Can you guess who is typing this blog?


QUESTION 8: What is the title of Reeve and McIntyre’s next stadium rock album?

a) The Unforgettable… Um… Errr….
b) The Joshua Hatstand
c ) Appetite for Destruction and Biscuits
d) Kippers By Post

ANSWER: The Unforgettable… Thingy, you know, oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue…

(Kippers by Post is, of course, the title of McIntyre’s new solo album of Gaelic lullabies.)

QUESTION 9: How much is this 1960s Sarah McIntyre action figure worth? (Note that it is still in its original box.)

ANSWER: It’s yours for a tub of Manx Knobs and a fistful of fresh Queenies.

QUESTION 10: Where does McIntyre keep her emergency doughnut supply?

a) In her hamster-like cheek pouches.
b) In an offshore bank.
c) Concealed in her wig.

ANSWER: C. These doughnuts have not been concealed well enough, and have attracted the attentions of local wildfowl.


0 - 3 Well done! You are a very sensible person and probably haven’t bothered reading this far.

4-6 You have a profound appreciation for Manx culture and literary life.

7-10 Congratulations! You are awarded honorary membership of the Reeve & McIntyre Appreciation Society! (Meetings held regularly in the lift at the Regency Hotel, Douglas.)

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19. at first I thought, wow, she’s posh

Here's the video of our Summer Reading Challenge visit to Leith Library! Philip Reeve came along and made a very elegant flip-chart stand. I love it when the boy says, At first I thought, wow, she’s posh! She had like, that bird in her hair, and fancy blue ribbon… and a dress with lipstick on it… and it was like, really posh.

Philip noted that support for Scottish independence has soared since our visit; I hope we weren't a contributing factor...

Thanks again to the kids at Leith Library who helped me come up with the Mythical Maze characters on my previous visit, and to the library team, Edinburgh City Libraries, The Reading Agency, and Tesco Bank Community for organising the day's event.

In other news, after my meeting at Scholastic yesterday, I stopped into Foyles on Charing Cross Road and found this book looking up at me from the display table. One of my all-time favourite illustrators that I'm always going on about, David Roberts, and... hats! Oh my word, you guys!!! Why didn't no one tell me about this book??

David drew his inspiration for the Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau illustrations from fashion editor Isabella Blow, and milliners Philip Treacy (spot the Princess Beatrice hat!, Stephen Jones, and Elsa Schiaparelli (note the shoe-on-the-head hat). And David has a little cameo appearance on this spread, too!

Let's zoom in a bit to read the text:

The book's writer, Andrea Beaty, and I just started following each other on Twitter, so I went and explored her website and there are treasures to be found! Check out this wonderful video of Philip Treacy making a hat! I was totally riveted.

David worked as a milliner, and you can tell, in the sculptural way he draws his figures and their patterns. I put together my hats with a bit of lick and spit - I don't really know what I'm doing - but I often daydream of taking a year out of publishing to work as an apprentice for Philip Treacy, with access to all that great kit. I don't generally get excited about the whole fashion industry (and its emphasis on being super-thin), but I make a huge exception for hats, which can be worn by anyone. Andrea's website also has some examples of hats that you can make yourself:

Hat lovers and fashionistas around the world, you're going to adore this book. You can follow Andrea on Twitter as (@andreabeaty but sadly, David Roberts is not on Twitter. (He's too busy pumping out a prodigious amount of incredible work. How does he DO it??!)

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20. roald dahl day

Today's Roald Dahl Day and, for The Telegraph, a bunch of other authors and I have picked our favourite characters from his books. Check it out, I choose the same one as Steve Cole and Andy Stanton! (I typed my answer into my phone as I was walking down Charing Cross Road and I didn't even bump into anyone.)

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21. cakes in space, the london invasion

Yesterday morning we had our Cakes in Space launch! And there were cake hats! Cakes with eyes! Cakes that were ALIVE....

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

The previous day, my co-author Philip Reeve and I had signed stock for indie bookshops and prepared for the next day's event, but we had no idea what sorts of life forms we'd encounter.

In the morning, my trusty companion, Stuart, and I travelled light years to Marylebone High Street to the space station that is Daunt Books.

And we were met by cakes! Cakes with eyes!

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

These fearsome creatures were carefully herded by cake wranglers from Oxford University Press, including Cecily, Camille Davis and Hattie Bayly.

Sweet wheat-based morsels clamped on to people's heads and wouldn't get off!

But somehow, these people took it in their stride...

...They couldn't seem to understand their peril.

In fact - shock horror - some of the visitors even ENCOURAGED the cakes in their ferocious tendencies.

I sensed these cakes had undue influence on their hosts.

Photo by Deadly Knitshade - whodunnknit.com

Fearless scientists that we are, Reeve and I took to the podium to investigate these strange happenings.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Philip demonstrated the wonder of SCIENCE, how in the future in Cakes in Space, people can insert protein sachets into the marvellous NOM-O_TRON and produce the most excellent food you can imagine. In Philip's case, it was a chocolate biscuit.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Of course, I had to jump in and try out this science of the future.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

I could envision MUCH more awesome treats than Philip, so I'd be sure to get something at least a hundred times better.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

But what was this? A carrot?!! ...Science is not all it's cracked up to be.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

This little girl was seriously skeptical. I expect she'll grow up and become the sort of scientist who relies on things like DATA and EVIDENCE, which is rather an odd concept.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

But those cakes were still lurking, so we delved into our carefully researched report and read out useful passages to the audience, warning them about their impending doom.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Now, I ought not to give away all the secrets of our research, but I can allude to a strange occurrence during the event, brought on by Visitors from Elsewhere, which left Philip struck to the heart with tragic loss. ...A moment of silence, please.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

To deal with these dangers in the future, we need TECHNOLOGY, mostly in the form of robots who look rather friendly. I drew a diagram of a Cakes in Space-featured robot named Pilbeam. And so that the schematics of this fine robot would not be forgotten by future generations, I had everyone draw Pilbeam along with me, implanting the robot's makeup directly into their brains.

And the implantation was successful, each diagram slightly altered so that the memory could not be wiped out by a single virus. (Clever, yes?)

Pictures by @LAWsomeTweets and Katie on Martin Hand's Flickr page

To lighten this dark, prophetic mood, Philip and I sang a ballad from the future, dating to just the time before everyone gets artsy-fartsy and starts singing only in binary.

What wonderous things these humans have wrought!

We practiced our Battle Cry of the Future, in case our defensive technology is not enough to ward off the killer cakes.

And still the cakes lurked, preferring the cranial regions.

Don't be deluded by their enticing appearance...

...these cakes have issues.

Photo by Rebecca Portsmouth - rebeccalouise.com

Despite the gloom and doom of the presentation, the front window display at Daunt Books Marylebone looked quite jolly. We suspect they may be in collusion with the killer cakes.

After our signing, Philip and I traveled with Norwegian starship captain Karoline Bakken to another satellite of Daunt.

Despite its rather old-fashioned facade, Daunt Books Highgate IS the future and houses a time machine in its basement.

The staff let us inscribe coded warnings for future generations in their Cakes in Space books but pretended not to know what we were talking about when we asked them about the time machine. So we left them, vowing to return when their secret could be revealed.

As we traveled, Captain Bakken lavished unwarranted affection on our captured cake. Being nice to cakes doesn't help anything, you ought to know. Eat the cake before it eats you, that's our motto.

Next stop: Daunt Books Holland Park.

But what is this? My co-pilot decided to go undercover, to wear CIVVIES, while I remained still properly clad in my fighting uniform. Obviously this is a sign of some overarching PLAN we have, but I can't tell you about it or I'll have to kill you.

Be aware. Be vigilant. Run to your nearest bookshop and snatch up a copy of Cakes in Space so that you, too, can be prepared for alien cake attack. You NEVER KNOW when they might strike. I will leave you with our public service broadcast:

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22. that babushka can boogie

This is terrific! (Thanks for the link, crafty person Alice Brewer!)

Roman Kulchenko - Our Response to Sanctions

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23. summer reading challenge: congratulations, everyone!

I've heard so many wonderful things about this year's Summer Reading Challenge, and SO many people took part! I got this message from the kids at Dewsbury Library in Kirklees, who were having a party to celebrate earning this year's medals:

So right here from the studio in London where I make my books, I've made a message back! It's for Kirklees and ALL the people who took part in the Summer Reading Challenge: readers, librarians, volunteers, family members, sponsors... probably even more people were involved than that. Thank you!

And here's the slightly fancier video we made at Leith Library, if you want to see that, too. :)

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24. cakes in space: a peek at the illustration process

Some of my illustration in my new book with Philip Reeve, Cakes in Space, are quite complicated, so here's a breakdown of how I've made one of them. This scene shows a battle between a strange, black-spaghetti-like alien, astronaut Astra, Pilbeam the robot and a host of mutant killer cakes. (Such a traditional children's book scene, right? I love being able to dream up this stuff with Philip.)

Thumbnails: First I start by making rough 'thumbnail sketches' of possible scenes in the book. They're called thumbnails because they're tiny, just large enough to give our designer at Oxford University Press an idea of where things might go on the page, so she can figure out where the text could fit in. You can spot these two pages in the middle of the bottom row. (I drew lots of thumbnails all on one page together.)

'Who was your designer?', you may ask. Well, here she is, the lovely and talented Jo Cameron, on the left, in her wonderful colour-coordinated orange and black dress. The other two people are Liz Cross, our publisher (in the centre), and our editor, Clare Whitston, on the right (wearing the fascinators Jo made).

Back to work.... I added a bit of blackness on the stretched-out spaghetti alien to show Jo that I didn't want the text to go on its body. And she e-mailed it back like this, with text.

Pencil roughs: Then I made a more detailed version in pencil (called a 'pencil rough'). It's still scratchy and full of mistakes, but I have a much better idea of what's going to go on the page. (This is the version that a lot of reviewers saw, in the 'Uncorrected Proof Copy', a printed version of the book with only about half of my artwork completed.)

Going to INK: This is my favourite bit, the inking. I love it because I've already made the big stressful decisions about where everything will go, and I can have fun with the details and focus on making the line look nice. I dip an old-fashioned metal nib into India ink and trace over the pencil on a lightbox. I like doing it this way because I don't have to go back and erase the pencil, and risk smudging the ink.

A good tip, if you're drawing with a nib and India ink: the ink clogs the nib very quickly, so have a little jar of water nearby. Every few minutes, you can dip the nib into the water and wipe off the extra ink and water on a cloth or some kitchen roll. If you let the ink dry on the nib, you'll need to boil the kettle and swish the nib around in your teacup with a toothpick, until the ink comes off.

This is a different page, but it's a closeup of me inking some of the mutant cakes. They were super-fun to draw! I didn't use expensive paper, just cheap drawing cartridge. If the paper was too thick, I wouldn't have been able to see through it clearly enough to trace.

And here's what the page looks like, all inked up. (Feel free to try colouring it yourself, if you like.)

Next, I scanned the inked page into my computer.

Scanning breakdown: For this one, I scanned it in 'Bitmap', which is total black and white, no gray areas. That makes it very, very clean. And I think I scanned it at 1200 dots per inch, which is probably a higher resolution than I needed (600 dpi would have been fine), but I wanted to make sure I didn't lose any line quality. I then opened it in Photoshop, converted it to Grayscale and shrunk it down to 600 dpi, so it wouldn't be so big that it would crash my computer.

I don't have a photo of myself, working on exactly that page, but here I am with my laptop and the Wacom mouse pen that I use for colouring. (Note the scarf: it was the dead of winter and very cold!)

Here's a coloured-up version! When I coloured the previous book, Oliver and the Seawigs, I only let myself use blue and light blue. And in this book, I tried to stick to just orange, but I struggled with that; light orange isn't orange anymore, it's peach. I didn't want a whole book full of peach colour, it might look like some horrible old bathroom. So I also used gray in this book, and then added a few extra colours just for the human skin tones, so Astra's mum could have a rich chocolatey-colour skin, and Astra could be a little bit darker than peach.

Limited palette: Even though the book was printed using a full-colour technique (so I could have had ALL the colours of the rainbow!), I was still very strict with myself about keeping a very limited colour palette. I just like the look of limited colours, and that decision gives the artwork a slight retro feel, like space stories from the Sixties. Philip and I liked that era's positive spin on things, how people were still optimistic about building new worlds and new societies, and we wanted to capture that feeling.

Adding texture: I was looking at that coloured scene and I thought, Hmm, this is a big cakey, crumbly battle... it still looks too tidy. So I added texture. I had already scanned in a bit of texture for some of the cakes, but the splotchy background texture comes from a big piece of watercolour paper with stains all over it that I made with over-brewed tea. After the tea had dried, I scanned in the sheet (full colour, I think, so I could use it with other things), turned it gray in Photoshop, then added it to the digital image, as a layer all over everything.

That's the thing about digital artwork, I always have to make sure it doesn't look bland because everything's a bit too tidy and clean, so I'm constantly scanning in handmade textures. People ask me if I draw by hand or work digitally, and you can see that it's really a mixture of both.

Here's a little peek at the rest of the book, and I've included several How-to-draw Activity sheets on the Cakes in Space page on my website, so do go over and have a look!

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25. budleigh salterton lit fest 2014

Traveling to rural Devon in full space costume must be the zenith of my career. Look at Spaceman Reeve, he's practically glowing with radiation.

Devon people, do not be alarmed if you look toward the end of your garden and see an other-worldly figure emerge.

He mostly comes in peace.

Invite him in to your home, for he is quite handy in the kitchen.

The Western Morning News printed a double-page spread to commemorate the spectacle.

Once we got used to the earth's gravity, we set off for Budleigh Salterton.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

And there we were, Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival! We demonstrated some of the gadgetry in our book, including the wonderous Nom-O-Tron, which can, from a simple protein formula, synthesise any sort of food you like.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

And I was pleased to find it produced a most excellent coffee walnut cake. (My favourite!)

Photo by Sarah Reeve

We always get people drawing at our events - everyone drew Pilbeam the robot with me - but this girl, Lauren Taylor, drew a whole comic strip in between the time we finished the show and the book signing session!

Check it out: killer cakes, robots, even little Reeve and McIntyre royalty! I like my victorious arm gesture at the end.

It's so fun getting people to draw Pilbeam. (Reeve does a great Pilbeam voice when we do one of the readings from Cakes in Space.)

I think people get a lot of confidence seeing that, if they take a drawing step by step, they can turn out something interesting on their paper. And I love how the drawings don't all look exactly like mine; they all have their own intriguing character.

Thanks so much to everyone who came along to see us and made drawings!

And big thanks to the organisers of Budleigh lit fest, we enjoyed our visit very much.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

And here's our production team, the most excellent Sarah Reeve and Stuart! Sarah did a great job bringing a killer cake on stage for us to examine in a Great-British-Bake-Off style, and Stuart worked the music (composed by Sarah Reeve). Thanks, team!

We even met one of the stars of the Save Budleigh Library documentary film and, when our event was finished, we stopped by the library for a peek. A nice lady with a zimmer frame insisted I wear her scarf for the photo.

I contributed a bit to the video, which you can see here. We do hope the government reconsiders closing this heart of the community and listens to local people who are throwing themselves into the campaign.

It was quite funny walking around Budleigh Salterton in cognito. We passed several people who had been at our event and they didn't recognise us at all without our space gear. Hey, check out the stone pictures on Budleigh beach! A masted ship, a panda, a bee, a Dalek, a whole pebble exhibition.

It's a beautiful place and I'd never been before; so glad to have had the chance.

Sarah's a professional portrait photographer and took lots of photos of us in her studio when we got back to the Reeve Ranch. They're great; I'll show those off soon! In the meantime, you can follow Budleigh lit fest on Twitter as @BudleighLitFest. And if you missed us this time, be sure to keep an eye on my Events Page if you want to catch us in action!

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